My weblog ELECTRON BLUE, which concentrated on science and mathematics, ran from 2004-2008. It is no longer being updated. My current blog, which is more art-related, is here.

Tue, 28 Sep, 2004


My motto here at Pyracantha Studios is: "100 Per Cent Quality Art and Art By-Products." This was made up for me by a good friend, now sadly departed from this life, who was a techie computer guy who wanted to learn drawing and painting. I think that he would have been fascinated by his artist friend who wanted to learn math, science, and technology. But he died in 1999, before my "conversion experience."

Let me explain about the difference between "art" and "art by-products." "Art" refers to original drawings, paintings, or other image work done by me for a client or for myself. "Art by-products" refers to preliminary sketches, color try-outs, extra bits that didn't fit in, and most of all, any copies of my art such as prints, color laser copies, digital images, or computer printouts. Just because it's an art by-product doesn't mean it isn't for money. In fact I have probably made as much money or even more from selling prints (by-products) as I have from selling originals (art).

Commercial art is somewhere between "art" and "art by-products." It is original work, done by hand, but it is often reproduced as ads. It is not sold as itself, nor put in shows or galleries. No one buys copies of it, at least usually. And often, even my best efforts are only temporary. Most of the work I do for Trader Joe's goes out of date and is taken down sooner or later, as foods go in and out of season. So is it art or art by-product? I don't define it. I am used to doing this ephemeral type of art now, at least at work.

But I save images of all my commercial work, so that even though the original sign may be thrown out or painted over, I have a record of everything. I cannot say that I have not been "productive" this last summer, because I certainly have done a lot of commercial work that I'm pleased with. It's just the studio work, the "art," that isn't going so well. This summer I created six large "billboards" which advertise Trader Joe's dairy products. The signs go over the dairy case and are visible across the whole store. My latest one is right on the border between "art" and "art by-product," or art and advertising. Though it has words and a logo, these elements are superimposed on a painting that is a tribute to the great nineteenth century "luminist" American landscape painters such as Thomas Cole or Frederic Church. Thus I have introduced elements of "art" into an environment of "art by-products."

Here's an image of my latest commercial work, titled "Organic Dairy Products." Acrylic on masonite, 48 inches by 33 inches.

But what about math, you might say? Have I reverted to color-addled art rather than hard-edged mathematics? Of course not. I am still doing math. I continue to do logarithm and exponent problems from the White Book. But they are getting boring, so I am going to move on into mathematical formulations for exponential growth and decay, as well as a review of series and progressions.

Posted at 2:26 am | link

Sat, 25 Sep, 2004

The Painting that Resists Getting Done

I am working on a private commission in my studio. Most of my studio art (not my commercial art for Trader Joe's or residential builders or wherever) is done for private clients who request an artwork and pay in installments. Even though I have received (and spent) the first installment for this piece, I have delayed and delayed on it for months. Now, after returning home from Boston and re-activating my studio, I have to get it done.

I don't know quite why I find it so hard to do this particular piece. It should interest me; it's a piece of architectural surrealism somewhat in the style of M.C. Escher. Or to be more precise, it is done as a homage to the contemporary Belgian surrealist Francois Schuiten (art gallery with titles and texts in French, click on the link words above and then the numbers to the left to see the pictures). But Schuiten is having a lot more fun with his work than I am with mine. Perhaps it is the leaden color scheme I chose, with somber black, grey, brown, and blue. Perhaps it is the absence of human figures, which I can't draw anyway no matter how hard I try. Or perhaps it is the technical problem of trying to do acrylic textures and watercolor textures in the same painting, as well as the non-absorbent illustration board surface which I don't like very much.

But most likely, it is the quote which I have to incorporate in the painting, which the client gave me. For the sake of client privacy I can't quote it here, and it is nothing shocking or disturbing, but I just don't "resonate" with it. Nevertheless I will letter it in where I have designed it to be, in readable script. The client is an old friend of my family back in New England, and he deserves the very best I can do. Usually, with an artwork of this type and small size (14 and a half inches by 9 inches), I am able to pull it out towards the finish and get a fairly decent piece out of it. I hope this happens with this one. If it does, I'll be happy to show it to you once it's done.

This is what it means to be a professional artist. I don't have the luxury of working from "inspiration" or "self-fulfillment." The client is the one who counts, whether it is a private collector or a commercial establishment asking for an ad. The client's satisfaction is my satisfaction too. But in this case I have tried the client's patience. Just a few more days and it will be done.

I can't say I've been doing much math or physics study. In fact, at this point I am thinking more about costumes than scientific studies, to my consternation. I should not be spending my time thinking about how scientists dress or how I would dress a scientist in a fantasy universe. If the fantasy scientist doesn't care how he dresses, as long as he wears something, why should I? One thing I am hoping to do in the upcoming months is design costumes which reflect scientific ideas and natural phenomena, from the astronomical to the geological. This is not commissioned or commercial work, but I do have an audience for it and would be thrilled if any of these designs made it to the presentation stage.

But now back to the drawing board where I must attend to the railing of a spiral staircase: mathematics in ink and water-medium paint.

Posted at 4:19 am | link

Tue, 21 Sep, 2004

Refilling the Fountain

It's been almost a week since my last posting here, which is a longer interval of non-communication than I am accustomed to. This is due to a number of factors, the first of it being technical difficulties as a new server gets installed. The next factors are personal, involving me. My mother has been seriously ill, and one of the reasons I remained in New England for a week after Worldcon was to visit her and do some of the work around the house that she couldn't do. She is now recovering slowly, and in a rehabilitation program.

I returned home from New England really tired, so tired that I could not do either math or art. I have still not unpacked some of the bags of stuff I brought back from my parents' house, but all the important bags with books, equipment, and clothes in them have been unpacked. I'm back at work doing retail graphics for Trader Joe's, and as always am well-fed by their gourmet goodies. But I'm still tired, not only physically but emotionally, from Worldcon and family illness and New England and so forth.

I imagine scientists the way they have been stereotypically portrayed in the media and in anecdotes in many of the books I read. They live in sublime masculine abstractness, indifferent to effeminate fripperies such as clothing, interior design, costuming, graphics, or even color other than in a spectrograph. They feel no need to give cute names to either their computers or their cars. They never decorate any of their possessions, or write in journal-books with colorful covers. They can work for endless hours and sleep in their laboratory if necessary, all without losing any quality in their work, and no one in their field thinks this is unusual. If they have families, they are secondary to their work, and their loving wives patiently do all the practical things that Mr. Scientist ignores. I have heard a tale about the wife of a Nobel-prize-winning physicist (herself a computer science professor) who accompanied her husband to events like lectures, to make sure that the absent-minded genius did not forget basic things like socks or lecture notes.

Now we all know that this is just a stereotype, because even I know scientists who don't at all fit that description. They play fantasy role-playing games, wear costumes to science fiction conventions, name their computers clever names, and actually go home to their families once in a while and….even do housework! However, I wish that I were more like the stereotype. I'd like to have that tireless abstract austerity that the stereotypical big guys have, able to rise above ordinary life's troubles into the world of particles and equations and energies, beyond house dust and ailing parents and piles of clutter. I'd live on junk food in my laboratory or office and never get tired or discouraged.

Tonight in my studio I finally re-assembled and re-filled my desktop fountain. (Another thing Mr. Stereotypical Abstract Scientist wouldn't bother with.) Now that that is running I can put back the glass sculptures, which frees up table space for art and math. I've got my White Book open and have done a few logarithm problems (with a calculator). There is watercolor to be done. By the way, I never use the water in the fountain for painting.

Posted at 2:19 am | link

Thu, 16 Sep, 2004


I have been home from New England for three days now and I am still unpacking. I have a fondness, inherited from my mother, for tote bags, briefcases, backpacks, and other portable bags with lots and lots of inner compartments. These bags are now fashionable and available all over the place so I have acquired more tote bags than the proverbial God. Each of these bags, which I took on my trip, was packed with Stuff, picked up at Worldcon or wherever, which I have to examine. Some of the Stuff may be important business contacts, I never know. Other Stuff includes ancient packets of sugar, Pepcid tablets, little sheafs of (unused) tissues, small notebooks which may contain important information, a floppy disk or two, an eraser, tiny pocket calculators, pens and pencils, and maybe even money. (I wish.)

ThatĀ's just examples of the small stuff which got into the pockets. I also collected papers and booklets, especially freebies which were handed out at the convention. They are tucked into the larger, flat pockets of the tote bags. Some of these papers have math demonstrations worked out on them, from when a Friendly Scientist explained exponential functions to me in the Con Suite. Others have more jotted notes on them, which may or may not have important business or artistic potential for me. I am still picking up this material and much more. I havenĀ't even gotten to the more valuable stuff yet, such as my own remaining prints and other art-related purchases I made at the Worldcon dealersĀ' room.

I unpacked my Ā"media bagĀ" tonight, which contained many books and papers, and my film camera and roll of film containing shots of the costumes at Worldcon. The media bag also had my math books in it. I was wondering when I would get to take the math out. I had not done math for about five days and the internal reminder light was blinking. I opened up my book and put the math things back in my studio. Looking at the book I got that momentary sick feeling I get when I havenĀ't done math in some time and I donĀ't recognize what I was just studying intensely a week ago. This feeling is exactly like descending from a high-rise floor in an elevator. When it first starts downwards, you have the unpleasant feeling that it may not be under control and will accelerate toward the ground until you are smashed. But as with math, the elevator (at least so far) delivers me safely to the ground floor, and I realize that the forbidding equation on page 690 is the one I did dozens of exercises with just a week ago.

Meanwhile, my favorite volcano, Mount Etna in Sicily, popped open last weekend (10-12 September) and started pouring out lava again, after more than two years of inactivity. It is still pouring out a river of lava, on a high, uninhabited slope. Within a day of the new activity, Web cameras were trained on the new crater and lava river, so that volcano fans like me could get a close-up view. You can see the river of fire at this Italian site where it appears as smoke by day, fire by night.

I have not unpacked everything. There is no art going on in my studio. A number of things went undone at my day job because I was not there, and they were glad to have me back. ItĀ's nice to have oneĀ's work appreciated and even needed. I also have a number of small art jobs, long ago promised to friends, that I must do right away. But now I must go back to rummaging in all those hundreds of pockets. There are still many things I have not found yet.

Posted at 12:12 pm | link

Tue, 07 Sep, 2004

Worldcon and Fermilab Anniversary

I have just spent the last five days at the World Science Fiction Convention in Boston. Five thousand other folks 'n' fans did the same thing. We trudged, zipped, wheeled, and dodged our way through a crowded upscale shopping mall, hotel atriums, and the endless vast rectilinear halls of the Hynes Auditorium to do our annual Thing. It was a bit more like Work than Fun for me, though there were some really bright moments.

Being the ultra-serious person that I am, I decided to concentrate on the more academic and scientific panels rather than the lighter ones. This was also because I am far less of a science fiction/fantasy reader, moviegoer or TV watcher than most of the folk at the con, so I wouldn't know what they were talking about at lots of the "literary" or pop culture panels. Also, I'm interested in science writing. Someone might even consider some of the entries at this Weblog to be "science writing."

Therefore I sat and listened to properly serious talk about how science fiction can teach readers, especially young or ignorant ones, about Real Science. And I listened to more talk about the equivalence of science-fiction science to magic, and even real science to magic. On Monday, Sept. 6, the last day of the con, I sat in awe as a panel of astronomers and physics types talked about the most interesting discoveries of the last few years, including the mind-boggling concept of "frame dragging" in a fast-rotating supermassive collapsing star, in which time and space begin to go down the drain.

When I was not contemplating the end of the universe, I was socializing with numerous friends, including many readers of this Electron. I got my start in science fiction fandom in Boston, where I grew up and went to school, and I was astonished to meet again with many Boston fans whom I had not seen for more than 20 years. They were still there, and they still remembered me as well as I remembered them! I had so many blasts from the past that I felt shell-shocked. Perhaps I didn't drink enough. Fortunately my newer friends from all over the USA were there too, to give me a sense of perspective (as well as feeling Older).

I went to a "bloggers' party" at which I hoped to meet more of the blog tribe. Holding court among the tattooed youth with blue hair and incomprehensible LiveJournal blognames was Chad Orzel, the eloquent physicist of "Uncertain Principles," a blond giant who when seated was as tall as I am standing up. Next to him was one of the power couples of New York Blogville, Patrick Nielsen Hayden of "Electrolite" and his wife Teresa of "Making Light." This Electron had nothing worthwhile to say to the "Lights," so I didn't say anything. The party was too noisy anyway so I left.

My big moment came on Sunday night at the Masquerade, where I finally saw the result of three years of work. Back in '01 (back?? Is it really that far back?) the Master-ranked costumers Pierre and Sandy Pettinger came to me with the idea that they would like to do my four "Archangels of Modern Science" (see my Website's "Art Gallery") as costumes for a Worldcon masquerade costume show. I was only too happy to have them do this and I prepared highly detailed designs which adapted the "Futurikons" for use as costumes. The rest of the work was up to the Pettingers, as well as their fellow Masters Fr. John Blaker from California and Jeannette Holloman of Maryland. They did all of the work, making the costumes and props and presentation; I was just the designer and didn't wear or perform anything.

They were entry number 31 in a long, long costume show. The Four Archangels in their exquisite costumes, complete with wings made of hundreds of pieces of fabric and texture, appeared on stage to celestial dulcimer music. I almost cried, it was so beautiful. My own painted Archangels come to life! The audience loved it, too. After they floated off stage, I rushed away to capture their images with my camera, before they disassembled their costumes. As the designer I was allowed into the special press area where professional photographers were taking pictures. And in a thrilling minute of ego-bliss, I was invited to pose with the Angels themselves, as the Costume Designer behind it all whose paintings had inspired them. Golly, I was in heaven, surrounded by angels! All through the evening and even on Monday I got recognition and congratulation from friends and other folk who had seen my angel art and knew where those wondrous costumes had come from.

I'd like to say that Pettingers and company won Best in Show, but that went to another, larger, more dramatic group. The "FuturIkons" won Best Workmanship in Master class, and "Best Re-Creation." This pleased the Costumers, who assured me that an award like this at Worldcon was plenty good. They said that I would share in the award even though I have no workmanship with cloth or sculpture and did not present on stage. Well, now I guess I have to continue doing art and design! Perhaps I will create some mathematical and science-oriented costumes. Many other Master-class costumers said they would love to work with my designs. Among the Master Costumers, there is at least one Real Physicist! (Name withheld, just as all my other Friendly Scientists must remain anonymous.)

My costume recognition, alas, did not translate into sales of FuturIkon prints. I only sold about 15 of the 66 prints I had so frantically constructed before the show. I was not able to show new original art at Worldcon due to time constraints, too much day job, and admittedly, too much math. I hope to remedy that in the future, though I won't be going to any more Worldcons for a while since the next three are all far, far away from where I live, two of them in other countries. But stay tuned, there will be more art and you will see it here at the Electron. (It won't always be blue, though.)

Fermilab Epiphany Anniversary

Today is September 7, which is the fourth anniversary of my trip to Fermilab. It was there that I made the decision that I would study mathematics and physics, not in the cultural way of reading nonmathematical books for laypeople, but the way the "real scientists" did it, with math. Four years later, after struggling through re-learning arithmetic, algebra, geometry, and then learning trigonometry and logarithms for the first time, I am just about to begin studying calculus. This will give me entry into physics for real. Things are going to get even more interesting now. This September 7, I am not at a vast particle accelerator, but at my parents' home, where I hope to do lots of work removing particles of dust, applying chemical and kinetic energy to mold and grime, and exploring the dark matter of cluttered closets.

Posted at 4:05 am | link

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